for a moment this good time would never end; you and me, you and me

“Free Tibet” flags made in China (BBC)

Police in southern China have discovered a factory manufacturing Free Tibet flags, media reports say.

The factory in Guangdong had been completing overseas orders for the flag of the Tibetan government-in-exile.

Workers said they thought they were just making colourful flags and did not realise their meaning.

But then some of them saw TV images of protesters holding the emblem and they alerted the authorities, according to Hong Kong’s Ming Pao newspaper.

I never limit myself to one meaning when I can encompass two or more, so take away the following from this story:


  1. Globalization commands a lot of power;
  2. You can find irony anywhere if you know where to look, and;
  3. Propaganda permeates the civilized mind in ways outsiders can’t comprehend. The police didn’t uproot this factory in an undercover sting – workers voluntarily turned themselves and their employer in. Tibet never did anything to harm these guys, but they so thoroughly believe the Chinese government’s gospel of Tibet As Guerilla Radical that they went out of their way to make the State’s job easier. Fortunately, in the free and enlightened West we don’t have that problem.

Speaking of, how goes the campaign to nuke Iran, Senator Clinton?

Got it – thanks!

Meanwhile, black males took a bump down to Junior-Level Citizenship in New York on Monday, when three NYPD detectives were acquitted of killing an unarmed black man whom they “feared” might be threatening them. Fifty shots it took, which places the 18- to 35-year-old Black Male somewhere between a charging African Rhino and Wolverine of the X-Men in the Scared White Guy Hierarchy of Indestructability. Remember, black people: you don’t have an inherent right to life as such while in the city of New York. You exist on the sufferance of every paranoid cop.

Kai Wright talks a little more about the Sean Bell shooting here, and also sheds some light on the mystery of New York’s falling crime rate over the last decade. If you believe that Giuliani’s “broken windows” theory of Better Living through Petty Harassment reeks of bullshit – as I always have – then the drop in crime looks like a mystery. But Wright points out the following:

[B]lacks accounted for 66 percent of those killed by New York City police between 2000 and 2007 (New York is a perennial leader in police fatalities, averaging 12 a year over those years). And while the violent crime rate plunged to historically low levels in that time period, the number of people killed by police has not budged—indeed, the number of cop bullets fired has skyrocketed. And it’s happened with impunity. Out of 88 fatal shootings, including at least 12 in which victims were unarmed, in only one instance was an officer convicted of criminal wrongdoing.

So Giuliani didn’t reduce violence so much as outsource it to the NYPD. Juking the numbers, if you will.

In other news, rice continues to get more expensive – and more scarce, which really means the same thing – all around the world. Tyler Cowen of Marginal Revolution offers his take on why in the New York Times:

The damage that trade restrictions cause is probably most evident in the case of rice. Although rice is the major foodstuff for about half of the world, it is highly protected and regulated. Only about 5 to 7 percent of the world’s rice production is traded across borders; that’s unusually low for an agricultural commodity.

So when the price goes up — indeed, many varieties of rice have roughly doubled in price since 2007 — this highly segmented market means that the trade in rice doesn’t flow to the places of highest demand.

Poor rice yields are not the major problem. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that global rice production increased by 1 percent last year and says that it is expected to increase 1.8 percent this year. That’s not impressive, but it shouldn’t cause starvation.

The more telling figure is that over the next year, international trade in rice is expected to decline more than 3 percent, when it should be expanding. The decline is attributable mainly to recent restrictions on rice exports in rice-producing countries like India, Indonesia, Vietnam, China, Cambodia and Egypt.

Tariffs and export restrictions choke off valuable goods and services. You can’t call arguments for free trade a trivial academic debate anymore, like whether a country profits more from cheaper cars or more domestic jobs. Open trade across borders will save the Third World from starvation. Fortunately, in the free and enlightened West we don’t have that problem.

Speaking of, how goes the effort to dismantle NAFTA, Senator Obama?

Got it – thanks!

As continuing proof of the ancient assertion that no one has ever drafted a law so noble that it can’t be misused, local British councils have started using surveillance cameras to nab litterers and dogs shitting in public. And a student who photographed some cops ticketing other civilians earned himself a $628 ticket for “sitting on a park ledge.”

Finally, on a somewhat upbeat note, Clay Shirky (author of Here Comes Everybody) talks about the growing wealth of a globalizing economy, the surplus of free time that results, and how we spend that time:

I started telling her about the Wikipedia article on Pluto. You may remember that Pluto got kicked out of the planet club a couple of years ago, so all of a sudden there was all of this activity on Wikipedia. The talk pages light up, people are editing the article like mad, and the whole community is in an ruckus–“How should we characterize this change in Pluto’s status?” And a little bit at a time they move the article–fighting offstage all the while–from, “Pluto is the ninth planet,” to “Pluto is an odd-shaped rock with an odd-shaped orbit at the edge of the solar system.”

So I tell her all this stuff, and I think, “Okay, we’re going to have a conversation about authority or social construction or whatever.” That wasn’t her question. She heard this story and she shook her head and said, “Where do people find the time?” That was her question. And I just kind of snapped. And I said, “No one who works in TV gets to ask that question. You know where the time comes from. It comes from the cognitive surplus you’ve been masking for 50 years.”

So how big is that surplus? So if you take Wikipedia as a kind of unit, all of Wikipedia, the whole project–every page, every edit, every talk page, every line of code, in every language that Wikipedia exists in–that represents something like the cumulation of 100 million hours of human thought. I worked this out with Martin Wattenberg at IBM; it’s a back-of-the-envelope calculation, but it’s the right order of magnitude, about 100 million hours of thought.

And television watching? Two hundred billion hours, in the U.S. alone, every year. Put another way, now that we have a unit, that’s 2,000 Wikipedia projects a year spent watching television. Or put still another way, in the U.S., we spend 100 million hours every weekend, just watching the ads. This is a pretty big surplus. People asking, “Where do they find the time?” when they’re looking at things like Wikipedia don’t understand how tiny that entire project is, as a carve-out of this asset that’s finally being dragged into what Tim calls an architecture of participation.

Now, the interesting thing about a surplus like that is that society doesn’t know what to do with it at first–hence the gin, hence the sitcoms. Because if people knew what to do with a surplus with reference to the existing social institutions, then it wouldn’t be a surplus, would it? It’s precisely when no one has any idea how to deploy something that people have to start experimenting with it, in order for the surplus to get integrated, and the course of that integration can transform society.

I have always measured wealth in units of Time I Can Spend Doing What Makes Me Happy. It pleases me to see that that calculation works on a social level as well.

medals on a wooden mantle next to a handsome face

# After buying Fraley dinner and drinks on Friday, we retired to Katie’s house in Davis Square. Melissa and Christine gave him a lactose-free crepe to blow out for his birthday wish. Then we all read the latest Cosmo for “Ten Secret Ways to Blow Please Your Man.” I should warn you: they’re no longer secret. I’ve read them.

# I’ve been playing a lot of Diplomacy online lately, either on Facebook or on PHPDiplomacy. The Facebook game sloppily ports the latter, so I greatly prefer PHPDiplo. I haven’t played for long enough to see whether my skills have atrophied, although twenty-four hours will reveal the outcome of my latest ambitious move (France attacking England and Italy simultaneously, with Germany’s aid). So we’ll see. If you want to play me on Facebook or on PHP, let me know and I’ll set something up. If you have any love of game theory or European history, or just a general ill-defined distrust of fellow humans, you owe it to yourself to try.

# Out of nowhere, and unbidden by man nor beast, I finally came to terms with the ending of the Bale/Crowe remake of 3:10 to Yuma while driving to work yesterday.

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fly me high through the starry skies

Roger Zelazny, Nine Princes in Amber:

There is Shadow and there is Substance, and this is the root of all things. Of Substance, there is only Amber, the real city, upon the real Earth, which contains everything. Of Shadow, there is an infinitude of things. Every possibility exists somewhere as a Shadow of the real. […]

If one is a prince or princess of the blood, then one may walk, crossing through Shadows, forcing one’s environment to change as one passes, until it is finally in precisely the shape one desires it, and there stop.

Wikipedia.org:

On the October 3, 2006 edition of Jimmy Kimmel Live, [Dax] Shepard declared that he is a Libertarian and opposed the War in Iraq.

JustJared:

New couple Kristen Bell and Dax Shepard ring in the new year together, sharing a passionate kiss on the beach in Miami, Florida on Tuesday.

Damn it! So close!

Edit: Also, this:

when the crowd gets loud it can burn up the roof or make the walls all fall down

This media blow stacks the tracks and cuts the wax that split the facts and rock the racks.

Atmosphere: If you haven’t already checked out the hippest cat on the underground scene, I can sum up the best parts of Slug and Ant’s live act with the following. Ten minutes before the end of his sadly shortened set (all-ages show, early curfew), Slug grabbed the mic and said, “All right, instead of doing that fake ass pretentious encore shit, I’m just gonna sing two more songs, then I’m out.” I HAVE FOUND THE LAST REAL MC.

Even if you don’t know every track he raps on, you can’t help but bob along with Slug’s delivery – lyrical but not too clever for his own good, rhythmic but not predictable. As big a fan as I am, I probably only knew about half the songs they played – When Life Gives You Lemons You Paint That Shit Gold had only dropped on Tuesday, and apparently more people liked God Loves Ugly than I did. Still, I’d change nothing but the curfew.

Johnny Cash – “Hurt”: I saw the first 30 seconds of this video on YouTube, back when it made the rounds, and thought, “Oh, it’s just like the original song, only slower” and shut it off. For whatever reason I came back to it the other day and listened the whole way through.

Wow. I was so wrong it’s fucking embarrassing. I could not have been any more wrong and still been speaking in the English language.

If you have never seen it before, watch it alone or with a trusted friend:

The Editors: Pretty good. Indie without being slowcore or atonal. They have the same symphonic bombast as Arcade Fire and the same lead singer who can sing but has clearly never had voice lessons as Interpol. I listened to An End Has A Start and liked it; you could probably talk me into listening to others.

David Gray: On a whim I picked up his Greatest Hits the other day. Maybe my musical tastes have mellowed with age – I don’t know if this guy would have made the same impression on me contemporaneously as he does now. Though I remember liking “Babylon” at the time. Good, chill pop music. “Shine” has been wrecking my face pretty continuously for about a week or so now.

Gnarls Barkley: Give it up for Cee-Lo and Danger Mouse, who completely flipped the mainstream hip-hop concept by rapping about fear, self-consciousness, hubris and isolation. The Odd Couple, their sophomore effort, covers a lot of the same ground as their debut. Cee-Lo spits simple-sounding tracks that come from a complicated place, emotionally. Not as many toe-tappers as on St. Elsewhere (no “Crazy,” no “Smiling”, no “Gone Daddy Gone,” no “Last Time”), so it might not stand the test of time.

The GZA: To break up the monotony of top 40 pop and emo heartbreak for a minute, here’s the Genius’s hardcore track “Knock Knock.” Chappelle’s Show fans will recognize the song, though not the video, from Season 2.

Dave Matthews Band: I stopped listening to these guys after Crash came out; I’ll argue I made no mistake. I picked Crash back up again after maybe a decade of not having listened to it and I still loved it. Aside from “Cry Freedom” and “Proudest Monkey” you can’t find a sleeper on there.

Trent Reznor: I’ve had “The Hand That Feeds” stuck in my head for about a week now. I listen to that one, plus something off of Wu-Tang’s Enter The Thirty-Six Chambers, plus at least one Soundgarden song, at least once a week at work. I’ve turned 27 and suddenly I just want to hit 17 again.

believe in me, I’m with the high command

Guys (and I mean Thoreau over at Unqualified Offerings and Brad Hicks of Livejournal). Seriously.

Thoreau

[Philippe] Sands reports that the military commissions act of 2006 may increase the likelihood of a future foreign war-crimes prosecution for those in the torture chain-of-command. Sands glosses a European prosecutor saying that “it would make it much easier for investigators outside the U.S. to argue that possible war crimes would never be addressed in their home country.”

Hicks

So I’m hoping that those of us who’d like to see almost the entire top ranks of the Bush administration brought up on charges somewhere, ideally at Nuremberg or The Hague but at the very least in front of a US federal court, on war crimes and crimes against humanity charges, not just liberal activists but some very serious and non-partisan constitutional scholars, I’m hoping that we manage to keep the pressure on [Ashcroft] about this.

No member of the Bush Administration, from the Commander-in-Chief down to Harriet Myers, will ever stand trial before a war crimes tribunal. Not one of them. Not ever. Thinking otherwise comes from a foolish urge.

The very notion of a war crime itself dates back only eleven decades, if that. You can pin the origin of the concept to the first Hague convention of 1899, but the principles then established only got a test run following the first World War. So you don’t have to look through centuries of precedent to find some obscure decision – a fairly superficial reading of Twentieth Century history will get you up to speed.

I don’t mean to say that the human race didn’t have a notion of “war atrocities” before 1917. Every king, commander and warlord had a deeply ingrained sense of things that Just Were Not Done. But people did them anyway. The first example that leaps to my mind: in the Battle of Agincourt, lord Ysambert d’Agincourt attacked the rear baggage train of King Henry V, slaughtering the unarmed peasants and page boys guarding it. Shakespeare’s Henry V depicts this rather tragically, and the melodramatic grief and vengeance that Hal suffers at seeing the carnage. But Shakespeare, partisan and patriot, omits Henry’s next order [EDIT: includes Henry’s next order anyway]: to slaughter all French prisoners in retribution. If either side revisited these incidents after, they did so at the signing of the new treaty in 1415, not before any sort of court.

(thanks to Grenacia in comments for the correction)

We have understood implicitly, for centuries, something that Robert McNamara only recently made explicit in the Errol Morris documentary Fog of War:

[Curtis] LeMay said if we lost the war that we would have all been prosecuted as war criminals. And I think he’s right. He, and I’d say I, were behaving as war criminals. LeMay recognized that what he was doing would be thought immoral if his side has lost. But what makes it immoral if you lose and not immoral if you win?

Let me make clear what Thoreau and Brad get wrong: no one will ever prosecute the victors.

Empirical data alone backs that up. If the U.S. did not stand trial at Nuremburg for Tokyo, or Dresden, or Manzanar, or Hiroshima, then nothing that the Bush Administration has done will get them called on the carpet.

But even without a century of precedent we can figure this one out from our armchairs. Say that President Bush and his employees knowingly violated tenets of the Geneva Convention. Who will charge them? Who will issue the summons? Who will force them to attend? What sanctions will be levied should they fail to appear? America has no challenger on the world stage when it comes to military might. The U.S. Government can not be compelled; they do the compelling.

“Okay, Professor,” you say, “my long-dormant fantasy of Cheney in shackles before Spencer Tracy can never come to pass. But what about a federal prosecution? Couldn’t a U.S. prosecutor charge Ashcroft or Rumsfeld or Gonzales or their subordinates?”

Again, this will never happen. For one thing, the Bush Administration has already laid a shaky, spurious but thorough legal framework to cover themselves. The Opposition Party has controlled Congress for over a year now* and mounted no serious challenges to it. I can speculate as to a number of reasons why:


  1. For career politicians, prosecuting an exiting official, elected or appointed, sets a horrifying precedent. When you retire from office, you’re supposed to step into a world of ghostwritten book deals, lucrative speaking engagements and the occasional Viagra commercial, not a jail cell. “Christ … if they got him, they could come after me next term!”

  2. The Opposition Party likes the precedent that the Ruling Party has set in bizarre legal roller coasters and would not want to dismantle the ride without trying it first. “So executive privilege protects anything I order my lawyers to do … and I’m justified in using executive privilege because I acted on the advice of my lawyers! Brilliant!” (Please note: not making this up)

  3. The Opposition Party does not have any actual objections to anything the Ruling Party has done, and only claimed such in order to win an election. I hesitate to endorse this level of cynicism but I have to offer it as an option.
But again, all of this we can arrive at through reason as such. The machinery of empire will not dismantle itself. A federal prosecutor, whose role only exists through a complex network of appointments, confirmation hearings and internal memoranda, will not turn around and attack that network for being complex. A war crimes tribunal will not press charges against the country that gives them most of their business in the first place. If you want the bastards out, you’ll never hit them from the voting booth.

President Bush took advantage of the immense machinery of state to order several inhumane acts under the cover of bureaucracy. He joins a long list of Presidents – both Opposition and Ruling party – who have done the same. His only failing, aside from giving torture the blessing of the American flag, killing a few thousand Iraqi civilians and displacing tens of thousands more, and putting into place a program of domestic surveillance that later villains may use to more villainous ends?

He got caught. Oops.

________________________
* Please don’t talk to me about how tenuous their majority is. If Republicans in the Senate could threaten to nuke a filibuster, the Democrats can as well. The talk I regularly hear about how important it is that the Democrats build support, not alienate voters, not appear weak, etc., makes the Democrats sound more like the Party of Political Expediency and less like the Party of Principle. Which, I have to emphasize, I have no problem with. I just wish you’d stop calling them the latter.

(passion) to play through pain, to love the game (passion) to break the chain, to blaze the flame

I lived immediately adjacent to the Boston Marathon route for 3 years at Boston College without once seeing it. The Marathon literally ran past my front door – both at Castle Greyskull and Sketchy-Six – and I couldn’t be bothered to watch. This year I remedied that.

I caught the 86 at about quarter to ten, taking it from Union Square to three blocks shy of Chestnut Hill Ave. At that point the driver kicked us off, so I walked the rest of the way. I saw the men’s wheelchair competition speed by as I walked downhill and snuck aboard an empty C Line train.

J. (whom I work with) had a keg of Magic Hat and french toast in the oven when I arrived at her place, just behind the St. Mary’s T stop. More friends and coworkers trickled in over the next hour. We stepped out briefly to watch the two leading female runners – Russian Alevtina Biktimirova and Final Fantasy villain Dire Tune – sprint past, then returned indoors for breakfast.

The bulk of the pack hit our stretch by about noon, so we filed into the street to cheer them on. A weird, friendly anarchy prevails on Marathon Monday. Cops lined the street, but so long as you keep your beverage in a red SOLO cup they’d never bother you. The spectators cheered total strangers, urging them to stay strong until the finish, but mercilessly booed girls who darted across the street in drunken packs, clotting up the Marathon’s main artery.

Anyone can cheer on an athlete, but being inches away from marathoners gives you the opportunity to cheer and be recognized. I would yell wild sports cliches at every runner I saw, calling them out by what they wore. “Yeah, Dana Farber!” I cried, for a team that ran for the titular cancer institute. “One more mile! You got it!” Watching them tilt their heads wearily and raise their hand in a salute made my afternoon.

“Come on, Children’s! Come on, Tufts! Keep it moving.”

“That’s it, Mass General! One mile! Gimme one mile!”

“It’s actually a mile point two,” someone corrected me, at one point. Probably an MIT grad.

But the high point of the day came when an older guy, already well tanned from the gorgeous day, hit my stretch walking and left it running. “One more mile,” I screamed at him. “Come on! Give me one more! You’re almost there!” I’d like to believe I made the difference for that one guy.

I got a bit of a sunburn but I can’t complain.

I am not afraid to keep on living

An observation:

I intend to “boycott” the Beijing Summer Olympics, in the same way I “boycotted” the 2006 Turin Winter Olympics, the 2004 Athens Olympics, the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics, and the 2000 Sydney Olympics, and the 1998 Nagano Olympics, and NASCAR racing, and most professional basketball, and all hockey on the professional level, and Pirates/Brewers games, and strongman competitions unless it’s Saturday afternoon and I’ve got nothing to do for at least four hours and really there’s nothing else good on, not Shawshank, not Trading Places, nothing.

To be serious for a moment (but just one): were the Olympics that much of a ratings draw that we can call any form of boycott meaningful? Beijing sits twelve hours ahead of the East Coast of the U.S. – their early games will start just as you’re finishing dinner, the late games will end just as the clubs let out. Would anyone in the U.S. really have had the fortitude to watch the Olympics live in the absence of a boycott? Or were you just going to get your Olympiad coverage from CNN and ESPN recaps, which you’re going to do anyway – thus making any form of boycott silly?

Then again, China remains perhaps one of the most despicable tyrannies in the modern world, except (to paraphrase Churchill) for all the others. So I suppose a mild objection to a nation’s censorship trumps none at all.

A quandary:

Free exchange is pretty objectively good, if you know the theory behind it. If you have something I want and I have something you want, a trade profits both of us even if no one creates anything new. In fact, no one can come up with a better way to make as many people as wealthy as possible than by allowing them to trade freely with each other. Just as pointing out gaps in the fossil record does not discredit evolution, pointing out the side effects of profitable behavior – pollution, monopoly, etc – does not discredit free trade.

Corporate behavior is pretty objectively bad, if you know the history behind it. Even the best corporations engage in rent-seeking and bureaucratic makework, with communication stifled through so many layers that success becomes an accident and incompetence becomes assured. And the worst among them bungle, cheat and get away with it. That’s not counting the ones that used to hire Pinkertons to shoot strikers, either.

The quandary: explain the (apparent) contradiction between the obvious benefits of free trade and the obvious failings of the modern corporation. Serious responses will be answered seriously; frivolous responses, frivolously. Show your work.